With all the talk about missionaries around here lately, I have again pondered on something that concerned me both while a missionary and afterwards, teaching in the MTC and more generally as a non-full-time-missionary member of the Church. It is about the sheer inadequacy of our missionaries.
Two anecdotes from my own missionary experience illustrate the patently obvious inadequacy of the young men and women who perform full-time missionary service.
First, after having been on my mission for close to eighteen months, my companion and I found ourselves working with a number of alcoholics who were genuinely interested in the Gospel. We were experiencing an exhiliarating wave of teaching and even baptizing (somewhat rare for northeastern Germany). SZ was one of the best friends of someone who was baptized at that time. SZ was a seemingly hopeless (although young) alcoholic. We taught him the discussions and encouraged him to enter a clinic to help him break his addiction, which he did. Cleaning himself up from alcoholism was a pre-requisite for being baptized. He did clean himself up and he got baptized. I confirmed him a member and conferred on him the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It was wonderful — until SZ relapsed a few weeks later.
Through SZ we met DR, another alcoholic also enrolled in the clinic. We taught him the discussions. He was having appreciably more difficulty breaking his addiction and keeping with the clinic’s detox program than had SZ. We visited him often at the clinic (where I was surprised to see that a number of the individuals in rehab for their alcohol addiction, including unfortunately DR, would pass the time nursing their other addiction of hard-core, disgusting pornography) and tried to encourage him by getting him to read the Book of Mormon instead of his pornography (at least while we were there). We nervously had to accept a complete break with him as part of the heightened program for detox that the clinic wanted him to undergo. We wouldn’t have contact for three weeks (if I remember correctly).
Near the end of this period, SZ told us that DR had left the clinic and that noone knew where he had gone. Soon thereafter, we were awakened one morning around 2:00 a.m. with a phone call. I answered the phone call trying to get oriented at that early hour. It was DR. He was talking to me but not making any sense at all. It sounded like he was saying a prayer or maybe trying to repeat what he had heard from us in the first few missionary discussions. His speech was slurred and I could tell that he was drunk. My main concern was trying to find out where he was, so I basically ignored the content of what he was saying and kept asking him that. He finally abruptly said “Im Namen Jesu Christi, Amen” (in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen) and hung up on me. We never heard from nor saw DR again. Neither did SZ.
As a 20-year-old boy, I had no idea that DR was literally begging for help in that phone call. All I cared about was finding him so that I didn’t lose a baptismal prospect. I didn’t have the wisdom or the spiritual or intellectual resources to talk him off the proverbial ledge he was on during that phone call. I was simply inadequate for that task, as I suspect 99.9% of the other missionaries of that age in the world are as well.
Second, I think of something that I know numerous missionaries in my mission lamented about. It was our lack of real, effective faith. I discussed this with several of the other missionaries in Berlin at that time because we had all had a common experience, albeit at different times. I experienced it one P-Day walking down the Ku’Damm with my companion right across the street from the GedÃ¤chtniskirche in downtown West Berlin. There, against a wall on the sidewalk, lay the most ghastly creature I had ever seen in my life (to this day I do not think I have seen a human being in such a condition). It was a young boy or girl (impossible to tell) with no legs (if I remember correctly) and emaciated to an incredible degree. Covered with flies and sores, this young person was sitting/leaning on a blanket with the wall as support begging for money. The scene shook me to the very core like a bolt of lightening and I felt such despair that for a moment I thought I might cease to exist. There were numerous spectres begging around Berlin at that time, including a skeletal woman who haunted the U2 subway line. Seeing such beggars was always tragic but this was wrenching to the point of being unbearable to see.
As the shock and dismay continued to unsettle me, a certain scripture distinctly coursed through my mind:
1 NOW Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
2 And a certain man lame from his motherâ€™s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have agive I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God. (Acts 3:1-9.)
Despite the stark and sudden presence of this scripture in my mind, my companion and I did little more than give a few coins and move on. In discussing this situation later with my companion, in the presence of other companionships at a conference, I found out that my companion had also experienced the same scripture and feeling. Other missionaries shared that they had seen the same individual and had almost the exact same experience. One other missionary had tears welling in his eyes and asked what I, and presumably the others, was thinking: “why didn’t any of us have the faith to simply walk up to him and say, as Peter did, In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” Each of us had the same priesthood as Peter; apparently, however, we did not have the same level of faith — not even close. Speaking for myself, I was too immature spiritually and emotionally to have the confidence to stand forth and bid him to rise and walk. That each of us was prompted to take the action that Peter took and not a single one of us did demonstrates the sheer inadequacy of our missionaries. It pains me to this day.
And yet despite this inadequacy, it is remarkable that God sees fit to send naive, sometimes arrogant, always inexperienced young men and women out into the world to carry out the mandate given to the original Twelve Apostles — “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:19-20).
I have often pondered but still do not understand the Lord’s choice to send out such young men and women into the mission field to perform this task. Ironically, however, I am convinced it is most definitely the right thing.